Beller, Bender, and Medin argue that a reconciliation between anthropology and cognitive science seems unlikely. We disagree. In our view, Beller et al.’s view of the scope of what anthropology can offer cognitive science is too narrow. In focusing on anthropology’s role in elucidating cultural particulars, they downplay the fact that anthropology can reveal both variation and universals in human cognition, and is in a unique position to do so relative to the other subfields of cognitive science. Indeed, without cross-cultural (...) research, the universality of any aspect of human cognition cannot truly be established. Therefore, if the goal of cognitive science is to understand the cognitive capacities of our species as a whole, then it cannot do without anthropology. We briefly review a growing body of anthropological work aimed at answering questions about human cognition and offer suggestions for future work. (shrink)
We agree that much of language evolution is likely to be adaptation of languages to properties of the brain. However, the attempt to rule out the existence of language-specific adaptations a priori is misguided. In particular, the claim that adaptation to cannot occur is false. Instead, the details of gene-culture coevolution in language are an empirical matter.
David Buller’s recent book, _Adapting Minds_, is a philosophical critique of the ﬁeld of evolutionary psychology. Buller argues that evolutionary psychology is utterly bankrupt from both a theoretical and an empirical point of view. Although _Adapting Minds _has been well received in both the academic press and the popular media, we argue that Buller’s critique of evolutionary psychology fails.
Currently, there is widespread skepticism that higher cognitive processes, given their apparent flexibility and globality, could be carried out by specialized computational devices, or modules. This skepticism is largely due to Fodor’s influential definition of modularity. From the rather flexible catalogue of possible modular features that Fodor originally proposed has emerged a widely held notion of modules as rigid, informationally encapsulated devices that accept highly local inputs and whose opera- tions are insensitive to context. It is a mistake, however, to (...) equate such features with computational devices in general and therefore to assume, as Fodor does, that higher cognitive processes must be non-computational. Of the many possible non-Fodorean architectures, one is explored here that offers possible solutions to computational problems faced by conventional modular systems: an ‘enzymatic’ architecture. Enzymes are computational devices that use lock-and-key template matching to iden- tify relevant information (substrates), which is then operated upon and returned to a common pool for possible processing by other devices. Highly specialized enzymes can operate together in a common pool of information that is not pre-sorted by information type. Moreover, enzymes can use molecular ‘tags’ to regulate the operations of other devices and to change how particular substrates are construed and operated upon, allowing for highly interactive, context-specific processing. This model shows how specialized, modular processing can occur in an open system, and suggests that skepti- cism about modularity may largely be due to failure to consider alternatives to the standard model. (shrink)
HIT produces category-specific deficits without category- specific mechanisms by assuming that differences in properties of objects are transparently converted into differences in representational format. A complete model would specify the mechanisms that accomplish this. Such category-specific mechanisms may have evolved because assumptions about the properties of some kinds of objects (e.g., living things) are invalid for others (e.g., artifacts).
This essay examines the proposal that psychological essentialism results from a history of natural selection acting on human representation and inference systems. It has been argued that the features that distinguish essentialist representational systems are especially well suited for representing natural kinds. If the evolved function of essentialism is to exploit the rich inductive potential of such kinds, then it must be subserved by cognitive mechanisms that carry out at least three distinct functions: identifying these kinds in the environment, constructing (...) essentialized representations of them, and constraining inductive inferences about kinds. Moreover, there are different kinds of kinds, ranging from nonliving substances to biological taxa to within-species kinds such as sex, and the causal processes that render these categories coherent for the purposes of inductive generalization vary. If the evolved function of essentialism is to support inductive generalization under ignorance of true causes, and if kinds of kinds vary in the implicit assumptions that support valid inductive inferences about them, then we expect different, functionally incompatible modes of essentialist thinking for different kinds. In particular, there should be differences in how biological and nonbiological substances, biological taxa, and biological and social role kinds are essentialized. The functional differences between these kinds of essentialism are discussed. (shrink)